Five Boxes, Three Ways

I read a lot of articles every week in curating these round-ups, and not all of the content is produced by project managers. Probably less than half, most weeks. I see a lot of excellent content from non-project managers, and a lot of gibberish, in about the same ratio that I see from project managers. Not everyone shares the same understanding of project management methodologies, even among the practitioners. I typically use the general classifications “Established” or “Traditional” methods and “Agile” methods while some folks refer to a methodology called “Waterfall.” So, in an effort to over-simplify these three commonly referenced methodologies, I’d like to show five boxes, three different ways.

This first version is frequently referred to as “waterfall.” Back in the 80’s, there were a few projects that were actually run in a fashion similar to this. Most failed, because you have to monitor while executing, or you don’t catch the errors until it’s too expensive to correct them. Ever seen that poster of two teams, building a bridge from opposite shores of a river, getting to the middle and suddenly realizing that they’re not matching up? Yeah, like that.


The second version is the way most projects have been managed for the last few decades: complete the planning stage, and then move on to execution, while monitoring the process and quality as you go. This is especially critical in civil engineering projects, like the apocryphal bridge, but also for those where compliance with some external protocols or requirements is required, or where powerful stakeholders have to be satisfied, or where a lot of sub-contractors, inspectors, or other contributors are involved.


These days, many projects are being run using Agile methods: plan enough to begin execution, monitor more-or-less continuously, and re-plan based on what you learn as you go. This is great for certain kinds of software and consumer product development projects; not so much for civil engineering, pharmaceutical development, and other projects where the product will have a lot of potentially catastrophic failure modes and a very long life.












Note that the contents of the boxes have not changed. Poor execution will doom a project, no matter what else is going on. Initiating the wrong project or starving the right one for resources will generate a negative ROI, no matter how you manage it. And failing to monitor scope, schedule, cost, quality, and the mood of the stakeholders will burn any project to the ground. Simply re-arranging the boxes, like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, won’t change the outcome. But there will always be people who want to try.

New PM Articles for the Week of November 21 – 27

New project management articles published on the web during the week of November 21 – 27. And this week’s video: “Weightless,” by Manchester, UK “ambient” band Marconi Union. A study by Mindlab International determined that this song produces a greater state of relaxation than any other music tested to date: a 65% reduction in overall anxiety and a 35% reduction in usual physiological resting rates. In case of holiday-induced stress …

Must read!

  • Darragh Broderick points out five leadership lessons we can learn from the National Football League.
  • Johanna Rothman provides elegant definitions of iterative and incremental, and how each manages a different type of risk.
  • Seth Godin notes that automation is reducing the difference in cost between custom, on-demand orders and mass-produced products. We’ll need a few adjustments in our management approach to stay in business.

Established Methods

  • Barry Hodge helps us radically transform our status reports by making progress visible.
  • Dmitriy Nizhebetskiy posted two more risk management videos, on selecting risk response strategies. Total time just over 7 minutes, safe for work.
  • John Goodpasture points out the application of project statistics in “Cost Risk and Uncertainty,” Chapter 14 of the GAO Cost Estimating Manual. Free download!
  • Pat Weaver reports to us on the application of virtual reality and 4D Building Information Modelling to optimize scheduling of activities and resources in construction projects.
  • Harry Hall tutors us on scope risks – how to recognize them, how to manage them.
  • Mike Donoghue puts the focus on gathering and managing requirements.
  • Naomi Caietti explains the details of managing organizational change in projects.
  • Cornelius Fichtner interviews Suketu Nagrecha, Chairman of the Board of the PMI Educational Foundation. Just 19 minutes, safe for work.

Agile Methods

  • Stefan Wolpers posts his weekly round-up of Agile articles, blog posts, and other content.
  • Dave Prior discusses “being” Agile, as opposed to “doing” Agile with Jessie Shternshus and Paul Hammond. Just 40 minutes, safe for work.
  • Henny Portman bullets the learning objectives of the SAFe 4.0 Scrum Master course.
  • Margaret Kelsey rounds up links to the top five #DesignTalk webinars of 2016, with links to the recordings.

Applied Leadership

  • Elizabeth Harrin identifies the potential sources of conflict in each phase of the project life cycle.
  • Leigh Espy shares a variety of ways to express appreciation to your team and co-workers.
  • Deanne Earle reviews “Leading in a Changing World,” by Keith Coats and Graeme Codrington.
  • Elise Stevens interviews author and organization change management consultant Michelle Gibbings on becoming a more effective influencer. Just 17 minutes, safe for work.

Technology and Techniques

  • Mike Griffiths tutors us on the fine points of creating multiple choice questions (and how to spot the correct answer in poorly written examples).
  • Leyla Acaroglu reviews the two physiological states of being for insights into what motivates change. As it turns out, a little discomfort is a good thing.
  • Jory McKay explains how our brain processes what we’ve read for retention. Yes, how you read makes a difference.

Working and the Workplace

  • Nir Eyal updates us on the current state of the ongoing debunking of ego-depletion, and suggests that there is meaning in our feelings about our work.
  • Suzanne Lucas reports on a study from Germany: switching from a seniority-based system to a merit-based system breeds inter-generational resentment.
  • Lisette Sutherland interviews Clare McNamara on giving virtual teams the time and space to get to know each other. Just 38 minutes, safe for work.


Major Update to my Home Office!

I addition to writing and blogging, I’m a project management consultant working from an office in my home. Many of my clients supply a laptop that they want me to use when accessing their network. Up until recently, I just spread everything around on my U-shaped desk – laptop, monitor, monitor, laptop, monitor – and tried not to knock anything over. Then a few months ago, I started looking at standing desks. I just don’t have room in my home office for another table or desk – if I did, I’d add a woodworking bench. For a while, it looked like I was going to have to ditch what I had in order to be able to start over. Not my idea of a positive solution. So I asked my daughter-in-law for her recommendation.

Home office sitting configuration

Sitting configuration, sans mug

Like me, Nancy works with multiple monitors. She has been using a gadget from Varidesk for several months. It sits on the tabletop and lets you raise and lower your monitors, keyboard, coffee mug, and so on with minimal exertion. Her experience has been positive, although she is considering a product from another company with an electric motor to handle the lifting. Since I need the exercise, I opted for the manual version of the desk. But that really only solved half of the problem.

Home office sitting configuration

Standing configuration, avec mug

I found a dual monitor KVM switch from StarTech, which allows me to toggle between the laptops. Then I ordered a Vivo laptop stand so I could mount the client laptop above my Dell, which lives in a docking station. I now have the two laptops “stacked” vertically next to my standing desk and I can work on one computer while monitoring the other for activity. I can toggle both monitors, keyboard, and trackball with a single button on the right side of the StarTech KVM box, located between and beneath the monitors. The third 1920 by 1200 monitor is sitting in the corner, pending other uses.

The Vivo mount is stable enough to type on when logging in or when I want to respond to an Email or IM without switching to that laptop. It never moves, even when raising and lowering the VariDesk. I considered mounting the pole in an existing hole in the desktop return at the base of the U, but by using the C-clamp on the edge of the return behind the other laptop, I was able to reclaim that space for other uses. And when I need to remove the lower laptop from its docking station, the Vivo arm swings the upper laptop out of the way.

At this point, I’m sold on the health benefits and relative comfort of using a desk that lets me alternate between sitting and standing – when I say I’m an Agile project manager, I really mean it! My next purchase will likely be one of those soft padded mats to stand on and maybe an IV pole to supplement my coffee mug. If I ever decide to mount my Macbook, I’ll use that return desktop hole for another Vivo mount. They have one that supports both a laptop and a monitor, at standing height. And I still have space under the hutch on the left side of the desk for other gadgets.

Final note: I don’t have any relationships with any of these vendors, and I didn’t even add them to the Practicing IT PM Bookstore, although maybe I should. This is just my personal product review.